Choose Your Own Adventure | Mac ‘N Cheese, Your Way

Remember those “choose your own adventure” books that were popular when you were a kid? The ones that allowed you to determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome? Every few pages you would be given two or three choices, each leading to more choices and ultimately to one of many different endings.

Life is kind of like those books, when you think about it. Every day we are faced with choices. What to have for breakfast, which route to take to work, to strap on those running shoes and pound out that run or sit on the couch and drink wine, what to make for dinner, whether or not to smile at a stranger (which is almost always a good idea, in my opinion).

And all of these choices, no matter how small they might seem at the time, affect the larger twists and turns that our lives take. The moral of the story? Choose wisely friends. But at the same time, don’t take life too seriously. Having fun is important too.

Did you know that you can have fun with mac ‘n cheese? Did you have any idea how many choices you are presented with when it comes to making this delicious and comforting dish?

Let’s talk about these choices, shall we?

First, let’s talk about cheese. You can go the traditional route with a sharp Cheddar, or you can change it up with Gruyère, Fontina, Havarti, Gouda, you name it! Don’t forget an accent cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta, or Goat cheese.

How about pasta? Macaroni, shells, penne, rotini, any small pasta will do!

And not that cheese and pasta require any help in the deliciousness department, but there are some flavorful and fun things that you can add to the mix! Herbs and spices like fresh thyme, rosemary, sage, parsely, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg add some extra flavor, while add-ins like peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, spinach, bacon, and artichokes give a little more beef to the final product.

Finally, don’t forget the irresistible crispy topping, created with breadcrumbs, butter and garlic!

The possibilities are truly endless! Choose your own adventure friends. Have fun with life, and with your food!

Choose Your Own Adventure Mac ‘N Cheese (adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, Feb./Mar. 2012)

Now, this recipe takes some time to prepare, but I promise you, it is so worth it. Especially if you’re single like me – the leftovers fed me for lunch all week!

Step One: Mix the topping!

1 garlic clove, minced

3 TBSP. butter, melted

2 cups Panko bread crumbs, lightly toasted

Salt and pepper

2 TBSP. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Stir the garlic into the melted butter. Put the breadcrumbs into a medium bowl and drizzle the butter over top. Add in the salt and pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (if using). Mix well and set aside.

Step Two: Make the cheese sauce!

4 TBSP. butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups milk (at least 1%)

Salt, to taste

4 cups cheese of your choice, plus up to one cup of an accent cheese

Herbs and spices (up to three, and up to 1 tsp. of each, depending on what you’re using)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for about 3 minutes. The mixture will be bubbly and frothy. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cheese, as well as the herbs and spices (if using). Season to taste with salt. Set aside, but keep warm.

Step Three: Cook the pasta!

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 lb. of your choice of pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 1 minute less than indicated on the package. Drain well and return to the pot.

Step Four: Mix it all together!

Add the cheese sauce and your choice of add-ins (up to 3 cups total) to the pasta and gently stir to combine. If you’re using bacon, pancetta, or bacon, cook ’em up first. If you’re using any veggies, like brussels or asparagus, steam or sauté them before adding them in.

Step Five: Bake!

Transfer the pasta mixture to a 9×13 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Evenly sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top. Bake at 350°F until the top is golden, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

For the batch of mac ‘n cheese pictured here, I used small shell pasta, Gruyère and Fontina cheese (accented with Parmigiana-Reggiano), fresh parsely and a pinch of cayenne, and brussel sprouts and pancetta. It was a true masterpiece! Next time, I’m going to try sharp Cheddar with peas and ham, and elbow macaroni for a more traditional mac ‘n cheese. See? Endless possibilities. Let your imagination run wild!


  1. Great ideas! We love mac n cheese.

  2. Hello Gorgeous! I do love me some Mac n Cheese!! Have you ever heard of a restaurant in the states (in Oakland) called Homeroom which is ALL mac n hcheese! Google it!! We’ve yet to go but will defo be heading over when we come over in March – I CANT WAIT – and im totally sold on their Greek style option.
    Lucky you having these leftovers for a week! Im actually getting quite a craving now! ps – I LOVED those books!!!

    • O.M.G. Em. I just googled Homeroom…I need to go there! Although I honestly do not know how I would choose! It all sounds so amazing, but the Greek version caught my eye too. LOVE artichokes. You’ll have to share your review of the place after you visit! 🙂

  3. I have a recipe very similar to this – only in the topping there are pine nuts 🙂 Thanks for the post – as always, so fun to read 🙂

  4. aaaaah! i love mac and cheese! more than i could ever express. seriously.

    ps. i think it’s mac & cheese month! I just posted/guest posted an East V West Mac & Cheese post last week where a blogger friend and I used as many seasonal and local ingredients as we could on opposite sides of the continent. Talk about choose your own adventure! XO!

    • Kristy – I just checked out your mac and cheese post – it looks fabulous! Adding in some greens makes me feel so much better about chowing down on a big bowl of creamy, cheesy goodness!

  5. I love home made mac and cheese! Some groceries that I’ve been to will sell “cheese ends” at the deli counter, which is just random pieces of cheese left over from slicing. I usually use these and end up with a different tasting mac and cheese everytime!

  6. I can’t help it, pal…I have to comment on where you’re buying your cheese. There’s nothing wrong (per se) with buying cheese from Superstore, but where you’re living now is SO CLOSE to the beautiful, south side location of the Italian Centre Shop. Their prices on cheese are great, and you can often buy a bag of “cheese ends” for a steal of a deal, which would be perfect for mac and cheese! I miss ICS so much – such a great place with reasonable prices.

    • I know, I know. It’s sacrilege that I didn’t go to the Italian Centre. I promise I will go there next time. I’m digging the idea of those cheese ends! Hope you’re doing well friend! 🙂

  7. I swear I didn’t even read the comment from Chef Turned Soldier before I commented. Great minds think alike, it seems!

  8. How true! I loved those books – and I love the idea that mac and cheese is a choose your own adventure! So fun!

  9. Ahhhh, I love this post. So many choices! So many ideas! I wonder what would happen if you added some grated chocolate on top before baking. Is that totally weird? It probably is.. I’ve just been on a weird chocolate kick lately. I added it to my chili tonight… SO GOOD, by the way. Yes, I think chocolate and mac n cheese would be tasty. So sue me. Whatever.

    I like this post.

    • Girlfriend, it’s a free country. If you want to put chocolate on top of your mac ‘n cheese, go for it. That’s the power of choosing your own adventure. 😉 Either way, enjoy it!

  10. That looks so delicious — i’ve never made mac and cheese before, but this is too tempting 🙂 Thanks for sharing some tips on variations.

  11. A topping of bread crumbs and parmesan makes all the difference. Love it.

  12. There are so many options when it comes to Mac and Cheese, I tend to get overwhelmed! These choice of cheeses alone… my love for cheese makes it so hard to choose. I loved your point about an “accent cheese” though, such an appropriate name for it and that’s exactly what is needed!

  13. I love me some homemade mac and cheese! And I used to love the books when I was a kid!

  14. I totally agree. The choices are endless! Yours looks delicious. The doc told me today to avoid gluten. Then I looked at your blog. So cruel– this world. xo

    • Cruel world indeed my friend! But why not give it a go with rice pasta and minus the bread crumb topping? It might be worth a shot. My heart goes out to you and your new gluten-free lifestyle!

  15. I love this… Mac n Cheese is one of my favorite foods, and when I was little I LOVED choose your own adventure books. Heck, who am I kidding? I would love them today too if I had time to read them! I like the idea of brussels sprouts in mac n cheese… I’ll be giving it a try soon! Thanks so much!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: